Two catsOn the road to Ouagadougou I saw an elephant through the trees at the side of the road. Just the merest hint of elephant, so you couldn't be quite sure that he was there. But he was there. A couple of weeks later we saw a herd in a national park in Ghana. We could hear them moving around on the first night we slept there, and the next day we saw them by a waterhole. I felt inexplicably moved in a way you can't put into words. There just aren't any. Words do not describe what we feel about anything; they talk only about the impressions feelings give us, the reflections of what we felt in the broader world. I mean, that we can only talk about resonances because the things we feel are not part of us.
My cat, Ouagadougou, died in my arms on 9th Avenue. A hoon knocked him over and there was nothing I could do but watch him die. I was listening to Mogwai, Come on die young, at the time. I've barely been able to listen to it since. I have always been squeamish. I don't like seeing other beings in pain. I feel it in my self. It is the only way I can feel empathy. When I think about dying, and it upsets me, I realise that it is at least in part because I empathise with the future me.
When I was in Ziguinchor, I was sitting in a doorway with Mrs Zen, drinking a can of fizzy. Some small boys begged us to buy them some fizzy. At first, we were like, no fuck off, because you are begged for things all the time, and it's hard to want to give. I can't really explain why. It's not a lack of sympathy. It's a feeling of hurt at the diminishment of yourself as a person: that all you are is a source of money and goods. It comes and goes. When people have wanted to know you, to know who are you and what there is about you, you feel a greater generosity. But when you have successive conversations that inevitably turn to demands for money or stuff, you feel abused. Objectively, I don't feel bad about Africans who see me in that way. They are entitled. But at the time, it feels sour. But Mrs Zen, who is not on the whole a generous person*, said, they probably don't get much fizzy, poor sods. So we bought them a can of I think it was Fanta. Something orange anyway. I have never seen people enjoy a fizzy drink so much. They relished every drop. Afterwards we laughed about their enjoyment of it. We were delighted with ourselves for bringing that pleasure into their lives, that momentary piece of magic even.
I left my cat, Ziguinchor, with my inlaws when I went back to England. They mistreated him and he went feral. He was a very soft cat and I expect he did not survive for long. I do not blame them for it. I knew that they had no love for animals and would not allow him a life that would be comfortable for him. I feel guilty about it whenever I think of it, which is quite often. I will never allow myself another pet because that act of selfishness haunts me. I have a strong sense of responsibility, of the need for me to be reliable, and I abandoned it as far as Ziggy was concerned. I don't know why I chose to do that. I know that a reason was that I did not have a place to live in the UK, so I couldn't be sure that I could house him when he left quarantine (they still had quarantine then). Another was that he would not enjoy quarantine at all, and I wanted to spare him that. But when I realised that no one who would love him would take him, I should have set those reasons aside. I have never forgiven myself for allowing Ziggy to die and I never will.